NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP LOST: MEMPHIS (AND EVERYBODY ELSE) DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO DEFEND THE THREE

                                                                    Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas   

It’s been an epidemic in college basketball (and the NBA) for many years.  At the end of the game, nobody knows how to defend the three.  This year, it cost Memphis the National Championship.

Here’s the situation (it happens every week in the NBA):  You’re up three, it’s very late in the game.  What do you do?  Many “experts” say you foul, put the team that’s behind on the line for only two.  That way you can’t lose, right?  Wrong.  Coaches with the lead have been taught forever not to allow the other team to score with the clock stopped late in the game.  And, frankly, the only way you CAN lose the game in regulation is to foul:  the other team makes the first, misses the second on purpose, the ball gets smacked out to the three-point line and, at the buzzer, the “losing’ team hits a three and becomes the winning team (or the team that’s behind gets the rebound, lays it in and gets fouled).  A longshot?  You betcha.  But the kind of loss that would cost someone their job.  Hopefully, you get the point.

Here’s what should happen late (under 10 seconds) in the game when you’re up three.  The team that’s ahead MUST defend above the three-point line.  You play defense between the three-point line and the ball, not between your man and the basket.  If, during the final few seconds of Memphis-Kansas regulation, somebody from Kansas throws it down low to a wide-open teammate for a dunk, Memphis thanks Kansas and wins the National Championship.

Yet, with the National Championship on the line, up three, four of the five Memphis defenders were BELOW the three-point line, defending in two-point territory.  WHY?  Because no coach in college (or the NBA) seems to understand exactly how the three-point line has changed the game.  It’s stunning.

Understand the obvious:  If you put four (or even five) athletic guys above the three-point line on defense, the only possible thing the ball-handler can do is take about a 30-35 foot three under pressure (Derrick Rose of Memphis on Sherron Collins — I’d take my chances on that if I’m John Calipari) or make a game-losing mistake by throwing it inside the three-point line for a game-losing two.  Instead, Memphis had no idea what it was doing and, even though Rose (who inexplicably had drifted below the three-point line with the National Championship at stake) contested Mario Chalmers on the shot, the reality is that Chalmers got an excellent look right near the three-point line.  When will these coaches learn?

While many will (correctly) point to the fact that Memphis missed four of five foul shots in the last 1:15 (7-14 in the second half), viewed by many (including this writer) to be their Achilles heel in the tournament (they shot fouls in the tournament great prior to this game), the reality is that they were still in great position to win the game.  But after the defense broke down (nobody accuses Calipari, who didn’t call time, of being a great bench coach) and Chalmers hit the three, the overtime Kansas victory was just a formality (no Joey Dorsey for Memphis in OT – he had fouled out with a terrible foul late in regulation).

Someday, maybe in two or five or twenty years, a high school coach will understand this (maybe it’s happened already and we don’t know about it) and defend the three-point line rather than defend the basket.  Quickly, it will spread to college and the NBA.  Then they’ll show a highlight reel of games of the past that were lost because coaches in the early 21st century still hadn’t learned how to defend the three.  Memphis-Kansas will be the first game on the reel.    

 © Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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